Ocean in Abstract

abstractocean1

This abstract was done in a class with artist, Laly Mille.  I divided the 9″x12″ 140# watercolor paper into four triangles.  They can be cut into individual paintings if I so choose.  When I look at this abstract painting today, I think I would leave it as an ocean study.  In my thinking, abstract equals the artist’s impressions of a subject.

There are the colors that I’ve associated with the ocean.  There is, perhaps, a horizon line.  There could be rock formations not far from the shoreline.  And there is definitely sky.  With clouds.  A mood is created.

When I present an abstract painting, I don’t like to discuss it very much.  I like it to stand alone, to represent what it represents and to allow the viewer to be drawn into it and have their own interpretation.  To encourage the viewer to fabricate a story around my impressions of the ocean.

 

The Backstory

The elephant shows up in my art more and more frequently.  I’ve posted this mixed media painting from 2018 a few times.  I don’t think that I mentioned the entire backstory for this piece.

I cut my little purple elephant from a photocopy of an earlier painting.  Whimsical, right?  But the actual photo of an elephant that I used as a model was an orphan in Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s Wildlife Refuge for traumatized baby elephants.  Many of them were orphaned due to poachers taking down their mothers and harvesting the ivory tusks for profit.  A very sad story that continues to this day!

I could see the trauma in the eyes of the little elephant.  A glazed, dazed look of dread.  For he had witnessed the violent death of his mother.  And then, he was left to wander in this confused and fearful state until he was rescued by a helicopter team and brought to the sanctuary.  Once there, it took these tender experts time to help him overcome the initial effects of the trauma.  Gradually, he was integrated in with a group of older elephants to help him with further recovery…to the degree that he could recover.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her husband, David, started the shelter for orphaned animals, especially elephants, many years ago.  He passed away in 1977 and Dame Daphne  continued the trust in his name.  She died in 2018.  I wondered if the work that she and her husband had so passionately lived was being carried on.  I am relieved to see that their daughter, Angela, who worked alongside her mother for twenty years, continues this heroic work with the help of her husband, their children and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust team.  This is really a huge task as the poaching continues.  It occurs to me (and to others) that if there wasn’t a market for ivory, then the elephants might have a chance.  However, there is a market.  How does one address such greed?  I read recently that if someone is bragging to you about their ivory collection or even a trinket that they have…show them a few photos of whose life was taken to add ivory to their collection.  In other words, shame them.

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There are 415,000 elephants remaining in Africa.  Recently 350 elephants died in Botswana.  Cause unknown.  So far, these deaths have not been connected to poaching–no tusks were removed.  Elephants are deeply feeling animals.  Some have said that they are mourning the loss of lives in their community.  I can believe this to be true.

 

What are you feeling?

Things are scrambled.  There is disorientation.  My brother in San Francisco doesn’t drive.  He relies on buses.  The buses are running but it’s always a risk.  Who else is going to be on the bus?  What are their personal habits of cleanliness and responsibility towards others?  He can’t get to his usual places to shop for the food he usually eats.  He is eating more canned food.  His health is suffering.  He isn’t getting the exercise he normally gets.  He lives alone, is a social being and feels cut off from his connections.  His lifestyle has been severely curtailed.  He lives minimally with a small carbon footprint.  Even with that, this is rough.

After a recent conversation with him, I felt sad.  I told him that he needed to eat healthy.  That much he could do for himself.  The stores where he usually shops are over-crowded making him less likely to shop there.  I told him he could have fresh produce delivered.  Regardless, he is down-hearted by everything that is going on right now.  Living in San Francisco, he feels the impact more than I do where I live.  Less freedom of motion.  His is one story among many…one good reason for kindness towards one another.

Expressive.1

This face came about from what I was feeling in the moment.  The words that I wrote  were:

There is so much that is going on that is challenging for many at this time.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.  An ongoing sadness and simultaneously, an awareness of the extreme beauty that surrounds us.  Concern for self and family and community, the world–the earth.  Humans haven’t lived softly on this planet.  Why have we distanced from the earth who sustains us?  There are so many questions hovering in the air.  I like to think that where there’s a question, nearby is an answer.  We have to pay attention–become conscious of the feedback that we are receiving from the earth and her other creatures.  We aren’t alone in this.  Why do we forget?

Then, yesterday, sitting in my tiny garden in the backyard, leaning into the uncertainty, a little hummingbird settled nearby, framed in a wire rectangle of the fenced enclosure.  It visited for an indeterminate time and we studied one another.  The rarity of such an experience always feels like an honoring.

This painting is a reminder to not run away from your feelings.  As they arise, do acknowledge them, embrace them, sit with them, be patient with yourself through them.  It is in this state of acceptance and bringing comfort to them that they are recognized and eased.  Have you noticed that?

In the midst of uncertainty, some things feel right with the world.  We look for those things.

Take good care.

Butterfly Offering

Butterfly

Once upon a time, I walked along a sandy beach, depressed and not clearly seeing the way through.  The proprietor of the motel where I was staying happened upon me in this state of being.  He said to me “We’re here this long,” gesturing a miniscule amount between his thumb and forefinger.  “We’re as insignificant as a grain of sand on this beach, so enjoy your time here [on the planet].”

For me, in the moment, that was what I needed to hear to bolster myself.  And, it was only part of the story.

I love the principle of the butterfly effect.  “The Butterfly Effect” is not a thing in and of itself. It is just a metaphor for the principle of Chaos Theory.”

Following is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

The term is often ascribed to Edward Lorenz who wrote about it in a 1963 paper in the New York Academy of Sciences.”

“Chaos theory is an interdisciplinary theory stating that, within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals and self-organization.  The butterfly effect, an underlying principle of chaos, describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state (meaning that there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions).  A metaphor for this behavior is that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a hurricane in Texas.”

…In The Vocation of Man (1800), Johann Gottlieb Fichte says “you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole”…

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We are all looking for meaning to our lives, singly and collectively.  That “a very small change in initial conditions [even from a far away location] had created a significantly different outcome,” gives me hope somehow.   Considering the times that we are living in and that we cannot see the whole that is unfolding, how can we find comfort in considering The Butterfly Effect?

We cannot know the effect we have on others, on life, on weather patterns, planetary momentum, even politics.  On a microcosmic level, was there someone along your life path who said just the right thing at the right time in a moment of your life where their words caught somewhere in your psyche and turned you around?  Was there an action you took one day, that looking back, was pivotal in the whole of your life?  And then, you cannot determine how a word you spoke or an action you took affected another person or perhaps a weather system.  What is true for us personally, is true for the macrocosm.

Everything is connected in such an intricate way that it is hard for the mind to comprehend.  It’s truly beyond logic and has been labelled quantum physics.  To my way of seeing, that’s another term for mystery.

Mastery of Illusion

Art is that, the mastery of illusion.  You’ve created a world on a canvas.  Can you get your audience to believe it?

When I look at my paintings, I realize that this is exactly what I’m doing.  I inhabit the canvas for awhile creating a story.  Whether it’s from an actual photo or my imagination is irrelevant.  In any painting that is being viewed, there is a sense of being transported.  If you love where you go, if you have the purchasing power, if you deeply desire recreating this experience and the concurrent feeling again and again, you buy the painting and place it in your home or office where you can see it regularly and renew the feeling that you enjoy and the illusion that it implies.

In any painting, there are things that are left to the imagination.  For example, I could paint a landscape and the viewer automatically extends the landscape beyond the canvas and sees more.  If I decide to only draw or paint a portion of the human face, the viewer completes the face in their mind’s eye.  When there is an imperfection, the human eye makes the correction in some way.  It’s interesting to witness myself doing this and to consider that you, the viewer, also do this.

lost in the woods.final

The title of this painting is Lost in the Woods.  The story is based in fact of a time when I was literally lost in the woods on the mountain.  It’s also about the ways we get lost in our own inner worlds at times, in our thoughts, in our fears, in our own self-doubt.  I created this illusion on a small substrate, a wood panel.  Your imagination takes over when you see this piece and you add to the illusion or story that I’ve initiated.  Can you find the three figures as she makes her way through the woods?

Fascinating that we embellish what we see, don’t you think?  In your own life, in what other illusions are you participating?

Musings on What is Hard to Comprehend

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It’s hard to comprehend that a virus could be so powerful on so many levels.  It makes people sick, it takes lives, it travels across continents, it halts the workforce, it stops education as we’ve known it, it damages economies–giant corporations and small businesses alike are affected, it creates arguments of politics around to wear or not to wear a mask (in America anyway).  It separates families and friends.  It brings inequities, injustices to light.  It commands that we save the world with better choices as to how we use the world.  On and on.  I bet you can add to this list and that if we analyze the list we make, it seems that we could find good and not so good within it.

I appreciate the perspective that the virus is giving us feedback.  That any response from the earth is feedback to us as a human species.  Often we act dumb in the face of such feedback.  Often we ignore it for as long as we are able to.  Often we try to outsmart it or upgrade our technology or continue more forcefully in the direction that we’ve been going.  Even while we see that’s not helping.  In fact, proceeding as we have been is making things worse.  However, we don’t seem to know how to stop and turn ourselves around.

Why is that?

Why do some people accept that wearing masks could halt the spread of the virus and adamantly wear their masks in public?  Why do other people vehemently object to wearing a mask at all?  What is the motivating force beneath each of these stances?

These days, I am fortunate to live in an area that isn’t highly populated.  Although we are now getting tourists in the summer.  And our numbers have increased accordingly.
I get out very early and shop for groceries–when I shop early, the store aisles feel a bit more spacious and I feel calm as I shop.  This is one thing that I can do to lessen the intensity of these times.  When I shop early, I’m in better shape over the course of the day.  Returning home with my weekly groceries, as I handle each item, wipe it down or rinse it in a pan of water, I am tuning in more to the particular item.  I give it attention that I might not otherwise–a type of gratitude.  Hmmm.  Interesting.  I note this.  I could consider it a big hassle and I have…but today, no, I’m grateful.

I also notice the accumulation of plastic bags…the ones that don’t break down in a landfill, the ones that end up choking the sea creatures that we conveniently forget have a life down there in the astonishing depths.  What am I to do with these plastic bags?  Isn’t there, I wonder, an alternative to plastic!!!  How brilliant are we that we can’t come up with a solution here?  Wouldn’t our minds be put to better use in learning and practicing how to harmonize with our planet in reciprocal and beneficial ways?   Instead of strategizing war tactics or how to make it big in the stock market.  Think of the jobs that would materialize if we put our heads together to make the world a better place for all creatures great and small and including the earth.

“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one…” from a song that we all remember.  The truth is, we need to proceed wisely in a better direction or we won’t be earning our keep here.

Stopping the Desert

Can one person really make a differenceWhat can one man alone (or woman) do?

Being true to himself, Yacouba Sawadogo, followed his curiosity or one could say, his calling.  He never learned how to read or write, but he was in conversation with the earth, that particular place on the earth where he lives.  That is, the landlocked country, Burkina Faso, in West Africa

People were having to fold up and leave their homes, their villages due to a lack of water.  That is one condition that creates climate refugees–people are forced to leave their homes “due to a sudden or gradual alteration in the natural environment…drought and water scarcity.”

Yacouba had an idea and he investigated it.  People thought he was crazy, ridiculous and even sacrilegious.  They mocked him and vandalized his fields.  He persisted with his experiment which was partially based in his intuition, common sense and some of the old ways of farming.

Can one person make a difference?  It looks like he did.  And, when many people unite for a common cause, then the impact can be exponential.

Yacouba Sawadogo?  The Man who Stopped the Desert.  I highly recommend this film for many reasons.  First of all, it is inspiring.  Secondly, in our lifetime, where we live right now, we may be called upon to “stop the desert” due to climate change.  It looks as if everyone across the planet is affected in one way or another by these changes. It seems wise to get knowledge from those who are pioneering new/old ways.

What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?

butterflyfairyqueen.2018

This dear red-haired fairy with a wise and perhaps mischievous look is ready to lead you beyond the garden gate.  She has something interesting to share with you.  Are you ready to follow her?  This painting is currently on exhibit in an art show.  I love this painting and don’t intend to sell it.  There are some things that I don’t want to part with yet.

Being that my art is mostly intuitive, I consider the possibility that there is a message for me within a painting.  And perhaps it wants to be shared with others.  “What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?” could be a metaphor for us today.  What lies beyond what is familiar?  It takes courage to lean into that question.  And it takes courage to be with the not knowing.

I had a friend who went on a vision quest to East India.  He encountered block after block in his travels.  Exhausted and disheartened, he landed in a small household with an elder man and his wife.  He told the elder man of the travails on his journey.  Feeling frustration and disappointment,  he finally surrendered and said “I just don’t know how to proceed.”  The elder man smiled and said, “Ah, master Edward, you’ve reached the end of knowing.  Now you can discover something else.”  I’ve always appreciated this story.

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As a writer, poet, artist, it’s fun to engage the imagination and let a story unfold from my art.  Today, looking at this painting, I ask myself “What is the story that goes with this painting?”

Following is an excerpt from some writing I did to begin to create her story.

I followed her.  It seemed as if her feet barely touched the ground.  I lumbered along behind her, feeling a bit clumsy.  My little garden gave way to a meadow of waving wildflowers, yellows and purples puddled like splashes of paint on an expansive canvas.  I’d always felt that earth was a constant paradise.  Now, I knew it.

I caught my breath, a sudden crack in my demeanor,
“I can’t be gone long,” I said aloud.  “I’ll be missed.”

I thought to myself “probably not for weeks though.”  Living alone, an artist living alone, leads a somewhat solitary life.  I just wanted to reassure myself, to assert myself to her that I had connections.  So I definitely needed to be returned to where we started from before too long.

Then, curiosity overtook me and I followed quietly losing any sense of time.  My senses were heightened.  Sight was crystal clear.  In fact, my glasses seemed an unnecessary annoyance.  I took them off and slipped them in the pocket of my shirt.

She had wings. Did I mention that?  And red hair, not ordinary red hair, electric red hair!  And she wore a hat like nothing I’d ever seen walking down the streets of Brisbane, California.  It was sort of conical or maybe like an Egyptian headpiece.  It suited her.  I called out before I could stop myself.

“Who are you?”

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Story-writing is fun.  You don’t sit down with an outline (or at least I don’t).  You are guided by your imagination, whimsy, flow of creative thought, perhaps, in this case–the fairy realm.

If you want to take your art to another level, study your painting and let it inform you as you give it voice.

Why not?  Have fun.  Then share it with someone you trust or someone you think would appreciate it…or perhaps really needs this story at this time.

Infinity (and beyond)

stitchingtheworld

A few years ago, I took an online course on the Hindu Wisdom Goddesses.  One of these Goddesses, Bhuvaneshwari by name, creates worlds.  And worlds within worlds.  An infinity of worlds.  Perhaps she stitches or weaves them.  As in this painting.  And then, maybe she flings them off into the vast universe(s).  What are they going to become?

I like the image of this…that some great Goddess is out there constantly creating worlds.  It’s as if she’s stretching her wild imagination to engage yet another possibility.  Isn’t that what we’re being called to do now.  In this time of Covid Virus, social unrest, political upheaval, planetary degradation–how can we recreate the world?  How can we recreate ourselves in this current world?  We have an opportunity.  When there is chaos, there is expanded possibility.

I was listening to a speaker yesterday…his name is Bayo Akomolafe.  Bayo is a wise thinker and activist for our times.  I liked this line, this idea, his suggestion:

“Let’s stay with the trouble of our becoming.  Let’s see what that does to us.”

I appreciate this thought because I notice how I, we, anyone wants things to return to “normal.”  To settle down and actually go backwards into what was, but no longer is.
To find an escape of some sort so we don’t have to deal with what is happening right now.  However, if we can stay with the trouble of our becoming, perhaps there is hope for something beyond that, some growth spurt of oneself and then the exponential factor can come into play–the growth spurt of many.  I hope so.

Following is a five-minute video clip of Bayo Akomolafe speaking on the “cultural myth that sets up man as central to the universe…”  I appreciate his way of perceiving and thinking outside of the boxes that we’ve accepted as the way it is.  I like to stretch my mind to think more broadly and to be more inclusive.

I hope that you take time to listen to this and let me hear what you think.

The Dive

A couple of years ago, I was invited by a local art gallery to preview an art exhibit, choose a painting and write a poem referencing that painting.  The painting that spoke to me was of an adolescent girl wearing a swimsuit, standing at the end of a diving board, preparing to dive.  Her body looked rigid, almost like the diving board itself.  Shoulders were raised nearly to her ears; her mouth was tense and straight.  Below is the poem I wrote.

I am not there to read this poem to you.  I’d like you to read it quietly once.  And then, read it aloud to yourself or to someone else.  Feel the poem.  Pretend that you are the diver.

The Dive
©by Christine O’Brien

Feet plugged into the
sticky resin springboard,
I note the space between me and
the crushing water below.
The form I hold.
Buddha stillness.
The grace I invoke
as I design form
gliding through space.
The breath I hold.
The breath I take
like thunder in a canyon
fills my ears.
The shadow of fear
remains at the other end
of the platform
while I stand on the edge
in focused repose.

This is not my first dive
though my raised shoulders,
clamped mouth and clenched jaw
could be interpreted as fear.
There is always that
but with prayer and practice
it quickly transforms
as there is no turning back now.
The dive grooms the diver
in this conspiracy of grace, form and space.
Originally, it was a dare from friends
that sent me up the hot aluminum ladder
on that sweaty summer day.
Now, it’s a drive from within,
not towards perfection
or for judges’ scores.
There is no competition.

It is the ecstasy of flight
that sends me to this precipice.
Neither bird nor stone falling through space,
I am a wingless angel
who rejoices in
those few seconds of airtime.
Body imprinting space
air molecules conforming, buoyant.
I visualize the flex, fold, arc,
the straightening as
I neatly incise the water with my hands,
barely a splash.
I surface a few feet away,
victorious,
a different sort of Phoenix rising.

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And then I made my own painting of another sort of dive by another sort of creature.

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